Fashion designer, Gualtiero Walter Albini was born in Busto Arsizio, Italy, on March 3, 1941.
Although his family preferred ifhe coursed classical studies, such as law and medicine, Albini decided to join the Institute of Arts, Design and Fashion in Turin and at 16 he was the only man on the course.
At just 17 years old he started to contribute to magazines and newspapers, which published his drawings of haute couture fashion shows in Rome and after Paris.
In 1961 he moved to Paris, where he met Coco Chanel. Over the time they spent together, the designer helped him increase his knowledge of fashion, polished him and sometimes helped him by editing his collections. She was also one of the sources of constant inspiration for Albini.
In 1963 he created his first collection for Gianni Baldini.
Soon after he met the fashion designer Mariuccia Mandelli known as Krizia. In 1965 he moved to Milan, and formed a partnership with the designer that lasted three years. With this partnership he gained a lot of technical and industrial knowledge, learning to deal with everything from knitting to the study of threads, from the production of clothes to the study of fabrics. In the last year of the partnership, Walter Albini also worked with the fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld who was at the beginning of his career.
In the late 1960s he worked for major Italian houses like Billy Ballo, Cadette, Cole of California, Montedoro, Glans, Annaspina, Paola Signorini and Trell.
Albini began a collaboration with Gimmo Etro, creator of Etro (who at the time worked as a fabric manufacturer), in which he was responsible for the design of the fabrics made.
In 1969, like Karl Lagerfeld, he participated in the “Idea Como” event, sponsored by the Italian Silk Producers Association, with the intention of showing which items would be used in 1970, with a union of color and style.
In 1970 he presented the Anagrafe collection for Misterfox with eight brides in long pink dresses and eight widows in short black dresses; shortly afterwards he presented a PréRafaelita collection that made clear his power to mix cultural passions and fashion; another example was the following collection, called Rendez-vous, which featured fabrics with prints and embroidery inspired by Art Deco.
By this time Albini was very successful and was one of the most sought after Italian designers, but unfortunately in many cases he was unable to sign his work, maintaining his own brand as a dream.
Until the Ftm group bought the right to distribute clothes made by him. Thus, for the first time Albini worked with 5 different brands from different sectors in a single project, creating a union and helping him to consolidate his style.
Creating an unique line, to present it also in a unique way, he chose, instead of the Bianca room in the Pitti Palace in Venice, to parade it in Milan, at the Circolo del Giordino. Caumont, Ken Scott, Krizia, Missoni and Trell also adopted the new place, creating what is considered the birth of the Italian ready-to-wear and Italian fashion week as we know it today.
This was an important moment for fashion, as the way the clothes were produced and the relationship with the consumer was changing. Haute couture as it was in the 1950s, for example, was giving way more and more to ready-to-wear and the new relationship with the fashion designer.
Milan was also closer to the factories for both fabric manufacturing and the machines and tools used to produce a fashion product. It was a time when all fashion production was being rethought.
With the Fall / Winter 1971-72 collection he also innovated in the way of exhibiting products in specialized magazines. Now he presented only drawings and used the concept of “groupage” in which the clothes were displayed in a single block, according to the designer; magazine pages were also paid by suppliers and not by brands or designers.
In the following collection, Spring / Summer 1972, known as “La Bardierine” or “Le Marinarette” Albini presented a model with bare breasts and some male models. One of the highlights paraded by the male models was the loose shirt, which until then had always been tight. In addition, he also worked with Etro designing the fabrics they produced.
The media now followed him calling him the “new Italian star”.
In April 1972 he presented the Fall / Winter 1972-73 collection, which was very rich and long.
The international media hailed him and considered him as strong as Yves Saint Laurent. Meanwhile, the Italian media treated him more coldly.
Discouraged he broke the contract with all suppliers and distributors with the exception of Misterfox, for which he presented the Spring / Summer 1973 collection, with it’s fashion show in Milan.
The dream of having his own brand was still alive and he decided to create the Walter Albini brand, within Misterfox, and for that he created his famous WA logo.
Finally, with the help of Mrs. Joan Burnstein, owner of the Browns brand, walter Albini was able to present his own collection in which 6 male and 27 female models were presented in London. The collection was titled The Great Gatsby, in honor of one of his heroes, F. Scott Fitzgerald.
In this show he presented the unstructured coat and the shirt coat, important pieces for Italian fashion.
It was the first time that the strategy of presenting a first line of the collection with stronger and more significant models with restricted sales, which was later supported by a second line of the same collection with more basic and easily accepted models, with sales pretensions for the mass, was used.
In 1973 he opened a showroom in Milan. The space was all mirrored and used to showcase Misterfox collections.
In Venice he bought a house, and presented the WA Autumn / Winter 1973-74 collection at Caffè Florian, which was presented again in New York.
At this point Walter Albini had international recognition, but even so he did not have the support of any solid commercial organization, so the following years, 1974 and 1975, were years of crisis, even though he continued to amaze people with his collections, creating even paisley and millefiori prints and those inspired by cashmere, which were successful in the clothing and furniture department.
Throughout his career Albini created several prints ranging from polka dots, stars, stripes to faces, dancers, dogs and even the face of the Prince of Wales.
He specialized in creating a total look, and even went so far as to create coordinated collections that combined his clothes with home furnishing accessories published in Casa Vogue magazine.
For the Fall / Winter 1974-75 collection he decided to make an exhibition, in his showroom in Milan, of illustrations of the clothes made from 1962 to 1972.
Shortly after the exhibition he ended the contract with Misterfox and left the Milan showroom.
He then traveled extensively, especially to India. These trips inspired his next collection. And yet in 1974 he innovated again by parading a men’s collection alone, separate from the women’s.
In 1975, in partnership with Giuseppe Della Schiava, a silk supplier, Albini presented his first haute couture collection for Spring / Summer. The collection was inspired by Chanel and the 1930s, two of his passions. Next came the Fall / Winter collection from 1975-76, in which the fashion show’s soundtrack consisted of 25 different versions of the song La Vie en Rose, it was completely pink and was also inspired by Chanel and Paul Poiret. As for the ready-to-wear collection, he again partnered with Trell and presented some of his most famous collections such as “Guerriglia Urbana”, “India” and “Folk”.
The fall / winter 1975-76 men’s collection was presented in a restaurant in Milan. The clothes were worn by both men and women, reinforcing the concept of unisex.
The Spring / Summer collection was also presented in a restaurant this time featuring beige and black busts that reproduced his image. For the Fall / Winter 1976-77 collection he presented a series of portraits of himself wearing clothes from the collection; these photos were taken by his photographer friends.
Among the collections made by Albini that are considered “cult” is the one made in 1977 at Galeria Anselmino in Milan. To display the collection, 12 panels were presented with a mix of clothes that were lent by friends and even by himself, reinforcing the concept that what really matters is the art of knowing how to mix clothes and accessories.
In 1977 he was responsible for an exhibition of penis personalized as celebrities and signed with their names; some of the “honorees” were Karl Lagerfeld, Yves Saint Laurent, Mickey Mouse and even the devil.
In 1978 Albini ended his contract with Trell and relaunched his brand, Walter Albini, with Mario Ferrari, presenting three more successful collections.
The Fall / Winter 1978-79 collection was long awaited, was showcased in front of 3 thousand spectators and was a great success. The subsequent collection, Spring / Summer 1979, was also a success.
The Fall / Winter 1979-80 collection was the last with the partnership with Ferrari.
With the arrival of the new 1980s the media was looking for something new, and started to put Albini aside. In the midst of day-to-day anxieties and financial difficulties, the designer’s creativity was shaken.
He still made collections for Helyette, Lanerossi, Lane Gravitz and Peprose, but the media had already lost interest.
Walter Albini lost his motivation, and on May 31, 1983 he died in Milan at the age of 42.
The fashion designer was responsible for several collections that liberated women with clothes inspired frequently by Chanel, the 1920s and 1930s, the designer Poiret and the exoticism of places like India and even some aspects of Chinese culture. He innovated not only with pieces of clothing but also in the way of presenting them, innovating in the use of soundtrack and show locations; in the use of unisex models as well as in the decision to hold a male-only fashion show.
Bibliography: Allan, Georgina O’Hara; Enciclopédia da Moda: De 1840 À Década de 90: Companhia das Letras, 2010.